Friday, May 25, 2012

A Garden Heals


I am stitting close to the ground. Only the depth of a brick path is between me and the brown crumble of earth we live on, eat off, mine, harvest, dig for cold, squeeze the juice from to grow our strawberries and tomatoes. Isn’t this where people go to hide, as well, when they “go to ground”? It’s where animals hide when they need to feel safe. “Get down,” we say when there’s danger, serious trouble. Grab some earth. You don’t have to be in extremis to remember where you, or at least a part of you, belong. When somebody is whole, or solid, or well-founded, we say he or she is “grounded.” We want our theories, our speculations, our ideas to be grounded – in fact, reality, experience, demonstrated knowledge. In something. Not just floating around in our heads. So I go to ground. Especially this time of year, when the earth begins to warm. The earth sucks my anxieties back inside, my disharmony harmonized. Dissonance absorbed to earth song. It’s not enough, in my case at least, to have my “feet on the ground.” I need my behind too. I pull weeds, get my hands on the plants, listen, watch what’s going on. A bee stumbles through the pink tips of the spreading, still flowering Mazus. A butterfly appears on a dome of leaves. A “painted lady,” perhaps. Not sure of the identification, certain I’ve seen it (or its kind) before. Year after year, in fact. A garden, as I have learned before and will no doubt need to learn again, is healing. Anthony Shadid, the award-winning journalist who wrote a book about restoring a cherished family home built a century ago in a Lebanese town by his great-grandfather before most of his family emigrated to the US, discovered this too. His book, titled “House of Stone,” deals with family and region, history and today, the Middle East in a divided Lebanon in the period following the 2006 July War with Israel; and the region as it was for centuries, undivided in the imperial but pluralistic rule of the Ottoman Empire. It deals with the little wars inside him as well. Shadid had been a year leave from work, but he felt the pressure of time when it came to restoring a stone and tile mansion built in a fashion that has disappeared from the world. Time and place have a different rhythm in what Shadid called the “dying” town of Marjayoun in a newspaper story that upset some of the locals. You couldn’t find a contractor on the Internet, gather estimates, turn the job over to the experts. Everything seemed to take forever, each day offering its own little tragedy or farce of delay or dissension. But then one of the town’s remaining human treasures came to help him plant a garden. Shadid found himself spending more and more time there. “Each day I probably walked around the plants four or five times, watching roses comng out, plums and peaches appearing on trees I had planted only weeks before, flowers blooming from a clump of wild tulips I transplanted, and buds emerging on gravpevines that once seemed lifeless,” he writes. “… I learned to respect the garden… Patience was requisite. There was redemption in silence. Seasons were restorative. A garden, I realized, heals.” Shadid died earlier this year, while covering the uprising against a dictator in Syria. He leaves a great book behind, in “House of Stone,” and a family home reclaimed from time’s neglect. He also leaves a healing garden.